What is forced annexation?
Under Indiana law, both municipalities and citizens may initiate annexation of areas contiguous to the city’s borders. However, municipalities that initiate annexation have the legal power to unilaterally force this annexation on property owners whether they want it or not; in our state, this is known as “involuntary annexation.” It is a legal way for a local jurisdiction to take control of your property without a single vote by citizens. There are only three states left that allow this: Indiana, Idaho, and Tennessee. Movements are currently underway to eliminate this law in Idaho and in our state. Senate Bill 330 of the 2015 Indiana General Assembly would remove the ability of municipalities to perform involuntary annexation. If the new law is passed, it would go into effect July 1 of this year.
Why does your group oppose this annexation?
There are many reasons we stand against this annexation, but they can be summarized under three main headings:
1) Property Owners’ Rights – Our group opposes any effort to FORCE people into living inside city limits. Many people live outside the city limits because they’ve made the conscious choice to do so. In fact, several home owners have stated that should the city decide to annex their area, they would move from their current residence. Also, the elected officials responsible for overseeing and approving this annexation were voted into office by the citizens inside the city, but the citizens of the annexation area had no vote in those elections; we have no elected official that can represent our interests in this matter. A lack of representation is an enormous problem, one that laid at the very core of why our nation was founded. The properties rights of owners and the freedom to choose where one lives should not be violated by anyone, especially by using an antiquated law that should have been removed long ago.
2) Taxes – You know what they say… follow the money. The ultimate reason the city council wishes to annex the proposed areas is the inherent increase in tax revenue it would bring to the city. People have been told that their taxes might go down. This is true – a FEW land owners would see a small savings. However, the vast majority of land owners will see an increase in their tax burden. According to the city’s own Tax Impact Analysis, the combined increase in revenue for all four proposed areas will equal $111,582. The increases for individual land owners range from $10 to $6,634. In a stagnant economy, every dollar counts; we’ve even had several business owners share with us that the annexation would force them to close due to the increase in taxes. We believe the city should strive to operate inside of its budget rather than simply confiscating tax money from other sources.
3) Services – Higher taxes would be understandable if the citizens were able to enjoy city services as a result. In the certified letter that was mailed to everyone affected by the annexation, the city claims that they will provide the annexation area with a range of services, but closer scrutiny reveals some glaring issues with these claims. The city says it will provide police service; what it doesn’t say is that police service is already provided. The city says it will provide fire coverage; what it doesn’t say is that the city fire department is not equipped to fight fires in areas without hydrants and that coverage would have to be provided by other departments through mutual aid. The city says it will provide trash pickup; what it doesn’t say is that this trash pickup is forced – you will be billed for it whether you want it or not. The city says it will provide street and road maintenance; does the city really have the necessary equipment, manpower, and finances to maintain (plow, patch, etc.) roads that are out in the country? The city says it will “extend” water and sewage services; what it also admits is that land owners wishing to connect with city water or sewage must do so at their own expense. So, to put it plainly, in return for an increase in taxes, the only concrete “benefit” for citizens of the annexation area is forced trash pickup. Taking without giving is not government by and for the people; it is government seeking only to protect its own interests.
Can citizens stop a municipality from annexing land?
The short answer is no. The city council has the legal right to approve the annexation ordinances, and there is nothing citizens can do to stop this from happening. However, once the annexation has been approved, under Indiana Code 36-4-3-11, we CAN appeal the decision by filing a written remonstrance with the superior court of Madison County. This remonstrance must be signed by a) 65% of the land owners, or b) owners of more than 75% in assessed valuation of the land in the annexation area. Land owners have 90 days following the publication of the annexation ordinance to file the remonstrance; if the court determines that the remonstrance is sufficient, it will fix a time within 60 days for a hearing on the remonstrance. Notice of the proceedings, in the form of a summons, will be served on the annexing municipality. The municipality is the defendant in the cause and shall appear and answer. If the land owners can prove that services are adequately provided and that annexation is not in their best interest, the court may order the annexation not to take place.